Done more crunches than you can count but still struggling to lose that lower belly fat? We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you’re going about it all wrong.

Lower belly fat develops just like fat located elsewhere on your body. When your body regularly gets more calories than it needs to use for energy, the rest gets stored as fat for later.

Depending on your age, other factors might be at play too. We all tend to gain more body fat — including belly fat — as we get older. And women tend to store more fat in their middles after menopause. (Thanks, hormones.)

So, what can you do to get rid of it? The answer might be a whole lot simpler than you think. Here’s a look at nine proven strategies that can help you lose weight and get rid of lower belly fat.

Is there actually a way to get rid of fat just around your lower belly? Sadly, the answer is no, you can’t target fat on certain areas of your body. Instead, the focus has to be on shedding fat from head to toe.

Spot exercises (such as tons of crunches) can strengthen your abdominal muscles, but they won’t actually get rid of the fat that sits on top of your abs. For that, you’ve gotta make an effort to lose weight all over. Here’s how.

If hours of crunches won’t get the job done, what will help you lose lower belly fat? There are plenty of smart strategies that can help you slim down all over and reduce the amount of fat around your lower belly.

1. Cut your calories

It’s the No. 1 rule for losing weight, period. To shed fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. And that means eating less. That doesn’t mean crash dieting or skipping meals.

You can lose a pound per week by eating 500 fewer calories per day. Not interested in crunching the numbers all day? Trimming your portion sizes or not going back for seconds can help you take in fewer cals.

The same goes for filling half your plate with fruits and veggies. Why not challenge yourself by growing your own? Then you’ll have bragging rights.

2. And maybe cut your carbs too

You don’t have to go low carb to lose body fat and lower belly fat. But breaking up with bread might help you reach your goal a little faster.

In a 2014 study, participants who ate a low carb diet lost more weight than those who ate a low fat diet.Bazzano LA. (2014). Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. Going low carb also seems to help people lose more fat while preserving calorie-torching lean muscle tissue.

3. Bump up your protein

Adding a shot of lean protein to your meals and snacks helps you feel full longer. It also helps your body retain more lean muscle mass as you lose weight — and even gives your metabolism a little boost.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends aiming for about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound if you’re super active.

Good sources include lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and yogurt.

4. Stop drinking your calories

Regularly sipping stuff other than water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea? Calorie-containing drinks can slow or straight-up stall your weight loss progress, making it almost impossible to get rid of lower belly fat.

Case in point? That 16-ounce latte you get with breakfast can pack about 250 calories. Grab a sugary cocktail after work and you’re looking at 300, 400, or even 500 more.

If you have those kinds of drinks on the reg, just cutting them out could be enough to start melting fat all over your body — including around your lower belly.

That’s especially true when it comes to booze, since research shows that drinking a lot of alcohol seems to cause fat to be stored around your belly.Dorn JM, et al. (2003). Alcohol drinking patterns differentially affect central adiposity as measured by abdominal height in women and men,

5. Try intermittent fasting

There are different ways to go about it, ranging from doing a 24-hour fast once or twice a week to doing 16-hour fasting windows each day. Either way, giving your body regular, extended breaks from eating seems to help with overall fat loss.

What kinds of body benefits can you expect to reap? In a 2014 study, people who stuck with intermittent fasting or alternate-day fasting shed between 4 and 7 percent of their abdominal fat within 24 weeks.Barnosky AR, et al. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: A review of human findings.

6. Go for high intensity intervals

Any type of exercise can help you torch more calories and burn more fat. But high intensity intervals (HIIT) can be particularly potent.

Why? Alternating between hard and easy seems to help keep your insulin levels lower. That can encourage your body to use up fat instead of squirreling it away in your cells for the future.

You’ll also keep burning more calories even after you finish a workout. Best of all, you can turn almost any workout into HIIT.

7. Try resistance training

Lifting weights and doing bodyweight exercises builds up lean muscle tissue, which boosts your body’s overall calorie burning — even when you’re at rest. And the more cals you burn, the more belly fat you’ll melt.

Only have time for cardio or weights? Believe it or not, the weights might actually be the way to go.

In a 2015 study, men who did 20 minutes of daily resistance training gained less belly fat over time than those who did cardio for the same amount of time.Mekary RA, et al. (2014). Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men.

8. Get enough sleep

The science is pretty conclusive: Too little shut-eye has links to weight gain — including around your middle.Beccuti G & Pannain S. (2011). Sleep and obesity.

Sleep deprivation can ramp up your hunger hormones, make you crave calorie-dense foods (hey, pizza and ice cream!), and zap your energy to exercise.

If you’re eating and exercising to fight belly fat, support those efforts by getting enough snooze time. That’s 7 to 9 hours, folks.Hirschkowitz M, et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations:
Methodology and results summary.

9. Keep your stress situation in check

Stress, like that which happens as a result of sleep deprivation, might mess with your weight. Unchecked tension or anxiety can drive you to eat more, especially when it comes to high calorie comfort foods.

Research also shows that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol may encourage your body to store fat around your middle.Warne JP. (2009). Shaping the stress response: Interplay of palatable food choices, glucocorticoids, insulin and abdominal obesity.

Your plan: Seek out stress management techniques that work for your lifestyle.

If you don’t have an hour to meditate or do yoga, that’s totally fine. There are plenty of short-term, effective strategies for feeling calmer, such as journaling, connecting with friends, or just watching a funny YouTube video.

It’s totally normal for your belly to feel loose or jiggly in the early days and weeks after giving birth. In addition to pregnancy weight gain, your abdominal muscles were stretched to the max to accommodate your growing bundle of joy.

Losing belly fat postpartum starts with the same strategies you’d use to lose belly fat at any other time: Eat a little less and exercise more. (But get the green light from your healthcare provider before dieting or exercising postpartum.)

It may not happen overnight, but it’s reasonable to be back to your prepregnancy weight by the time your baby reaches their first birthday.

(If you’ve not had a baby but have rapidly put on weight and are worried about the possibility of being pregnant, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.)

Does that mean your lower belly will look the same as it did before you got pregnant? Not necessarily. For some women, pregnancy causes the abdominal muscles to separate and create a noticeable bulge, even after they’ve fully recovered from giving birth.

This condition, called diastasis recti, is fixable with abdominal exercises. A physical therapist can help you get the hang of them. Just ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation — they can point you in the right direction.

You can’t target lower belly fat with crunches or other special exercises. But you can lose lower belly fat by losing body fat all over.

The best way to do that? Cut your calorie intake, choose nutrient-dense foods, and bump up your activity level. As you start losing weight, your lower belly will start to flatten out too.

If you’ve set weight loss goals for yourself and want to start making strides toward them, here’s how to safely lose 10 pounds in a month.